Belief key as Cannon clinches major number three
 Robbie Cannon (Balbriggan) celebrates on the 17th green after his victory in the final of the AIG  Irish Amateur Close Championship at The European Club. Picture by  Pat Cashman

Robbie Cannon (Balbriggan) celebrates on the 17th green after his victory in the final of the AIG  Irish Amateur Close Championship at The European Club. Picture by Pat Cashman

Robbie Cannon had a feeling. And Robbie Cannon was right.

He loves The European Club because it's a test of course management, mental and physical stamina, and ball-striking prowess. 

Few amateurs, especially those that work full time, dedicate as much of their free time to the game as the 39-year old strength and conditioning coach from Balbriggan. 

And so it was no huge surprise that he added the AIG Irish Amateur Close to his expanding resumé with a 2 and 1 win over Killiney and Wentworth's Eoin Leonard. 

With the 2009 South of Ireland and 2013 Irish Amateur Open titles already on his mantelpiece, he's now halfway to the career Grand Slam, or as his pals have dubbed it, "the Cannon Slam".

“Two good friends of mine, a former coach Seamus Duffy and Matt McAlpin, they call it the Cannon Slam,” a beaming Cannon said. "I’m halfway to winning all six. It’s definitely a realistic ambition now. 

"Before today it was probably slim but I think I'm there with a fighting chance now. I think that’s something for me to aim for, for the rest of my career.”

Cannon came close to adding to his list of wins at Rosses Point four years ago but lost to Jack Hume in the final of "the West". He's also gone close in the East, finishing tied for third in 2016.

 Robbie Cannon (Balbriggan) pitching to the 6th green in the final of the AIG 2018 Irish Amateur Close Championship at The European Club. Picture by  Pat Cashman

Robbie Cannon (Balbriggan) pitching to the 6th green in the final of the AIG 2018 Irish Amateur Close Championship at The European Club. Picture by Pat Cashman

The North, where he reached the last 16 in 2013, is another event he enjoys but for now, he's basking in the glory and hoping to be called up for international duty for Ireland again after surprisingly failing to get selected five years ago after winning the Irish Amateur Open in a playoff at Royal Dublin.

"To be honest, 2013 when I won the Irish Amateur and I didn’t get picked, that was probably the hardest pill I’ve ever had to swallow," he said. "I was gutted because I’m such a passionate Irish man and it would mean the world to play for Ireland again. Hopefully, that should be good enough."

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His win yesterday came just a few weeks after a torrential downpour potentially cost him the leading qualifier's medal in "the South", where he was leading in the clubhouse after a brace of 69s and the decision was taken to abandon the second round and reduce qualifying to 18 holes.

He lost to the in-form Paul Murphy from Rosslare, an eventual quarter-finalist, in round one and having missed the cut in "the East" and Irish Amateur Open at Royal County Down, he was determined to have a good week in Brittas Bay.

"It’s funny I had nothing but bad luck in every tournament I played this year," he said. "I knew I was due a bit of good luck this week. I had a funny feeling about this week and today. I even wrote down in my diary last night that I was going to win. I just had a really good feeling."

He did well to qualify for the matchplay in the first place, starting bogey-quadruple bogey on The European Club's back nine before playing the remaining 34 holes in four-over to qualify with three strokes to spare after rounds of 78 and 73

Only Alex Gleeson managed to take him to the 18th in the matchplay and that only because Cannon was two down with five to play in their semi-final and staring down the barrel of a gun when he left a plugged greenside bunker shot in the sand at the 14th.

 Eoin Leonard (Wentworth) driving at the 8th tee in the final of the AIG 2018 Irish Amateur Close Championship at The European Club. Picture by  Pat Cashman

Eoin Leonard (Wentworth) driving at the 8th tee in the final of the AIG 2018 Irish Amateur Close Championship at The European Club. Picture by Pat Cashman

"I was up against it against Alex this morning," he said. "I was two down with five to play and looking like I was going to go three down only I holed a bunker shot for a half. When I holed that I knew the title was going to be mine. I felt like it was destiny."

Buoyed by that, he won the last four holes to claim the match, claiming the 15th in par, the 16th with a stunning birdie, the 17th when Gleeson was forced to reload on the tee and the 18th with a conceded three after another rocketing four-iron to 10 feet as Gleeson found water.

Those four irons at the 16th and 18th brought back memories of the late, great Bobby Browne, who coached him when he won "the South" as a Laytown and Bettystown player in 2009.

"When we were getting lessons it was always four-irons. It's funny that the two shots that won it for me this morning were four-irons. It’s pretty special."

Ball-striking was key for Cannon but his putting was also solid for most of the week and that ultimately proved the difference in the final against Leonard, who heads to the US Amateur Championship tomorrow with some extra confidence despite the disappointment of his defeat.

A Division One player with Yale and a former Leinster Boys champion, he beat one of Ireland's up and coming stars in Portmarnock's Conor Purcell by 2 and 1 in the semi-finals.

"He holed the putts, which was the key thing," he said of Cannon. "Fair play to him. It was fun. It was a good match. It was certainly nerve-wracking but a great experience. Definitely one I won’t forget."

Leonard took first blood when he won the fifth with a par as Cannon three-putted for bogey.

But Cannon won the par-three sixth, getting up and down from 20 yards right of the green after getting a free drop from under the bush as he would have been standing on the path to play his recovery.

 Robbie Cannon (Balbriggan) winner of the AIG 2018 Irish Amateur Close Championship at The European Club. Picture by  Pat Cashman

Robbie Cannon (Balbriggan) winner of the AIG 2018 Irish Amateur Close Championship at The European Club. Picture by Pat Cashman

The Dubliner then turned the screw, birdied the tough seventh from 15 feet to take the lead and made a great par at the 10th to double his advantage.

After striking a sleeper trying to escape from sand, he hit a 150-yard pitching wedge to 10 feet and holed the putt to save par

While Leonard won the 11th to get back to one down, Cannon won the par-three 14th to go two up with a conceded birdie.

"I hit some poor shots coming in too, which cost me," Leonard said, lamenting his poor tee shot at the treacherous par-three. "I didn’t have the opportunities to get the shots back.

"If I could have stuck that on the green, it would have put him under pressure and it might have been different."

As it turned out, Cannon hit his tee shot close and then went three up with a par at the 15th.

Leonard won 16 with a bogey when Cannon three-putted. But it all ended on the 17th, where the champion split the fairway, found the middle of the green and after Leonard had failed to hole a 30 footer, calmly lagged a 15 footer stone dead to seal victory.
 
"Very, very happy," he said. "I’m very grateful for winning."

He added: "I've got to thank Nigel Howley, the pro in Balbriggan, he’s done a lot of work with me on my putting the last couple of years. He’s turned me from a poor putter into a good putter. 

 Robbie Cannon (Balbriggan) winner of the AIG 2018 Irish Amateur Close Championship. Picture by  Pat Cashman

Robbie Cannon (Balbriggan) winner of the AIG 2018 Irish Amateur Close Championship. Picture by Pat Cashman

"I got some really good putts there 6, 7 and 8 that were crucial. I kind of lost the pace of the greens a little bit on the back nine. I had a couple of bad three putts. To be honest, I was getting a bit tired the last few holes there. I’ll have to get back in training for the West next year!"
 
As for the "Cannon Slam", he said: "I think that’s something for me to aim for, for the rest of my career."

Leonard will be disappointed to have gone so far only to fall at the final hurdle. 

But given the strides he's made in his game over the last few years at Yale, good things cannot be far away.

"It was a very good week," he said. "I came here to enjoy the course and see how far I could get. It’s been a great experience.
 
"Friday I’m going to Pebble Beach for the US Amateur. Hopefully I’m not too tired for it."

As Cannon proved, loving The European Club is the key to winning there.
 
"The Ruddys have always been really kind to me," he said. "I remember them giving me a round for free after Harrington won one of the PGAs. It’s great down here, I’ve always loved it and I always will."

Cannon, you can be sure, would heartily agree.

AIG Irish Amateur Close Championship, The European Club

Semi-finals

  • Robbie Cannon (Balbriggan) bt Alex Gleeson (Castle) 2 holes;
  • Eoin Leonard (Wentworth) bt Conor Purcell (Portmarnock) 2/1.

Final

  • Robbie Cannon bt Eoin Leonard 2/1.